A Whole Lot of Shakin' in Lincolnshire as Stellar Cast Shines in Marriott Theatre's 'Grease'
It’s time to go back to high school – for a couple hours anyway – and the year is 1959. The time for slicked back hair with full-on pompadours, bobby socks with pleated knee length skirts and hanging out at the malt shop have once again returned as Marriott Theatre has begun 2020 on a strong note bringing the classic rock and roll musical ‘Grease’ to the stage. And though maybe not quite the R-rated, profanity-laced production that first hit Chicago when it was initially produced in 1971 by the Kingston Mines Theater Company in Chicago, there is still enough teenage-driven attitude, raunchiness and high school spirit to successfully deliver the spirit of the original.
The story, which is based on co-writer and co-composer Jim Jacobs’ own experiences at Taft High School in Norwood Park, takes place at ‘Rydell High,’ walks us through the senior year of a handful of colorful characters. Greaser Danny Zuko (Jimmy Nicholas) returns after summer break to lead the T-Birds while, at the same time, Sandy Dumbrowski (Leryn Turlington) is just getting her feet wet at Rydell, a brand-new student whose family just moved to the area. It turns out the two had a relationship over the summer while on vacation, but their stories couldn’t be more different. While too-cool-for-school Danny tells a more vulgar description to impress the gang where the two were “getting friendly down in the sand,” Sandy, intercepted by the Pink Ladies led by tough and sassy Betty Rizzo (Jacquelyne Jones) a.k.a. “Rizzo,” tells the girls a wholesome version more along the lines of meeting a cute boy, holding hands, having lemonade and staying out until 10 o’clock. Thus, explained to perfection in the show’s second number “Summer Nights”.
Not long after, the two are beyond surprised to find out they are attending the same school, but Danny’s cool image that he holds so dearly might just get in the way of rekindling any kind of romance they once had. While centering on Danny and Sandy, ‘Grease’ also keeps us busy with plenty of T-Birds and Pink Ladies action. Danny’s second in command, Kenickie (Kevin Corbett) is building a hot rod the fellas call “Greased Lightning”. It’s a hunk of junk, but he can dream. T-Birds Sonny LaTierri (Jack Cahill-Lemme), Roger (Jake Elkins) and Doody (Michael Kuroswki) cause trouble whenever they can, talk about rumbling with other gangs (they don’t) and just love to horse around any chance they get.
The Rizzo-led Pink Ladies take Sandy in. She’s far too squeaky clean for their taste but maybe a pajama party with booze, cigarettes and ear-piercings might loosen her up. Frenchy (Landree Fleming) wants to be a beautician and drops out of high school, Marty (Michaelle Lauto) crushes on TV dance host Vince Fontaine (Curt Bouril) and Jan (Tiffany Taylor) has the hots for Roger, a T-Bird who really loves mooning people.
There are plenty of ups and downs along the way for these seniors and plenty of unforgettable moments take place. Director Scott Weinstein not only does a fantastic job at staging this production in the round, he gives the audience what we want most of all – a nearly flawless recreation of the hit show so many of us grew up with. William Carlos Angulo beautifully choreographs the dance numbers to Ryan T. Nelson’s musical direction, particularly in “Greased Lightnin’” and “Born to Hand Jive” and the casting is just superb. Jimmy Nicholas brings the looks, the cool and the comedic timing to pull off an admirable Danny Zuko, while Leryn Turlington delivers the sweetness and innocence (and toughness at times) needed to play Sandy. Turlington also impresses vocally, especially in the key number “Hopelessly Devoted to You”. As good as Nicholas is as Danny, you can’t have a convincing leader of the T-Birds without strong support from his gang and Corbett, Cahill-Lemme, Elkins and Kurowski are simply terrific. Each have plenty of their own moments to shine, but when together, it’s not hard to imagine these goofballs being the best of friends.
Equally impressive is the chemistry and individual acting chops of our Pink Ladies. While Jones truly does stand out in this production (her rendition of “There are Worse Things I Could Do” – wow!), Fleming has plenty of laugh out loud moments as Frenchy while Lauto and Taylor have their own scene-stealing moments.
Garrett Lutz also makes a funny Eugene and Kelly Anne Clarke is solid as Miss Lynch, but it is Jonathan Butler-Duplessis as Teen Angel who, though not as featured as the rest of the cast, might just leave the audience with the biggest impression of all after his show-stopping performance of “Beauty School Dropout”.
‘Grease’ is a hit for good reason. What took off from a small Chicago theater company, made its mark on Broadway (16th longest run in history) and inspired a 1978 mega-hit starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John, has now become an iconic part of pop culture. It is a story that so many of us can relate to, no matter when we went to high school. From real teenage moments and hysterical antics throughout from the show’s many lively characters to well-executed song and dance numbers that keep your toes tapping, Marriott Theatre’s ‘Grease’ successfully keeps the classic musical alive in their own unique way while holding onto the integrity of the show.
The arsenal of great songs is plenty and includes such familiar tracks as “We Go Together,” “You’re the One the I Want,” “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” and “Alone at a Drive-In Movie.”
Highly recommended for those who enjoy laughing and listening to catchy music.